Dreaming about a potential Starlin Castro breakout season


The first two years of the post-Robinson Cano era at second base were not pretty for the Yankees. Sitting through nearly 1,000 combined plate appearances of late-career Brian Roberts and Stephen Drew is not something I’d wish on any fan. Cano was the best second baseman in baseball at the time of his free agency, so by definition he was irreplaceable, though I don’t think many of us were prepared for that big a drop-off.

Last year the Yankees brought in Starlin Castro, a player in his mid-20s with some MLB success under his belt and ostensibly his best years ahead of him, to man second base. His first season in New York was okay. Not great, not awful. Just okay. Starlin did set a new career high with 21 home runs, though his overall .270/.300/.433 (94 wRC+) batting line was right in line with his .280/.318/.408 (96 wRC+) career average. Blah.

The Cubs traded Castro last year essentially because they were tired of waiting for him to break out. They were ready to win and better players were available to them both internally (Javier Baez) and through free agency (Ben Zobrist), so they did something that usually draws ire from fans: they sold low on a talented young homegrown player. Things worked out pretty well for Chicago last year. Now the Yankees are hoping to get more from Starlin.

What, exactly, would a breakout season by Castro look like? He doesn’t lack physical talent. That much is obvious. He did this yesterday, remember:

Castro is held back by extreme plate indiscipline — he’s walked in 3.8% of his plate appearances the last two years (3.2% if you remove intentional walks) — so pretty much any sort of breakout would involve laying off pitches out of the zone. Improved discipline truly may be the only thing Castro needs to break out.

Last summer Castro swung at 37.5% of the pitches he saw out of the strike zone, the 17th highest rate among the 146 hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. That’s up from 33.9% in 2015 and 30.4% in 2014. Not a great trend there, Starlin! And yet, I come to offer you four reasons Castro could break out in 2017. You may have to squint your eyes a little.

1. No more adjustment period. Castro grew up with the Cubs. They signed him as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2006 and he spent a decade in the organization. The Cubs were the only team Castro had known. Last year he came to New York and played in a new organization for the first time. New team, new coaches, new league, new city, new Spring Training site, the whole nine. That can be a lot to take in. This will be Castro’s second year in pinstripes and presumably he’ll be more comfortable this time around.

2. Castro is in what should be prime of his career. Starlin will turn 27 next month and that is the age when players are usually at their best. Once upon a time a player’s prime lasted from ages 27-31, or thereabouts. Nowadays it’s closer to 25-29. (Here are some aging curve studies.) Either way, 27-31 or 25-29, Castro is right smack in the middle of it. Age 27 is a pretty common age for a position player to have a career year. Every player is their own unique individual and there are exceptions to every rule. Generally speaking though, Starlin is at a good age for a baseball player. Big things tend to happen at 27.

3. Castro is making harder contact. The career high 21 home runs last season came with a steady increase in hard contact — an increase that started in the second half of 2015 — and a steady decrease in soft contact. Here are Starlin’s last two years:

starlin-castro-hard-and-soft-contactHit the ball hard and good things tend to happen, especially when it comes with fewer ground balls. Castro’s grounder rate dropped from a career high 54.1% to 49.1% last season. More hard hit balls in the air is a recipe for success. It’s not a coincidence Starlin set a new career high in home runs last year given his increase in hard contract and decrease in ground balls. Some more progress in both departments, especially in cutting down on ground balls, would equal even more power going forward.

4. Castro has done some good things before. As recently as 2014, Castro hit .292/.339/.438 (117 wRC+) with 33 doubles and 14 home runs. We’re not necessarily asking Starlin to achieve new offensive heights, though that would be cool. Just get back to where he was three seasons ago. This isn’t like asking 37-year-old Matt Holliday to hit .340/.405/.607 (151 wRC+) like he did at age 26. Castro is a month away from his 27th birthday and that solid 2014 season is not so far in the rear-view mirror that hoping he can return to that level of production is unrealistic.

* * *

At his peak, a version of Castro with a little more plate discipline could probably hit somewhere close to .300/.340/.475. Maybe even a little higher with the batting average. I think the raw talent is there for him to do that. The Yankees owe Castro some decent money — $9M, $10M, and $11M in the next three seasons — and they have a lot of middle infield prospects on the way. If Starlin doesn’t break out in 2017, the team figures to intensify their efforts to trade him.

Spring Training Game Thread: Prospects on the Road


This afternoon the Yankees are playing their second road game and fourth game overall of the Grapefruit League season. So far in their three games they’ve hit five home runs, second most this spring (the Phillies have six), and man, I am loving it. Long live dingers. We haven’t seen nearly enough of them the last four years. Hopefully the trend continues.

What to keep an eye on today? Chad Green, for starters. He’s coming off an elbow injury and the other four rotation candidates have all pitched already. They all threw well too. Green will look to do the same today. Greg Bird and Aaron Judge are batting third and fourth in the starting lineup, and, with any luck, we’ll get to see them do that for the next five or six years. (Gary Sanchez might have something to say about that.) Anyway, here is the Orioles lineup and here are the players the Yankees sent 60 miles south to Sarasota:

  1. LF Aaron Hicks
  2. C Austin Romine
  3. DH Greg Bird
  4. RF Aaron Judge
  5. 1B Rob Refsnyder
  6. 2B Ruben Tejada
  7. 3B Miguel Andujar
  8. CF Dustin Fowler
  9. SS Jorge Mateo
    RHP Chad Green

Available Pitchers: LHP Evan Rutckyj, LHP Joe Mantiply, RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Kyle Haynes, and RHP Matt Marsh are all scheduled to pitch after Green. LHP Nestor Cortes, LHP Caleb Frare, RHP Jonathan Holder, RHP Yefrey Ramirez, and RHP Matt Wotherspoon also made the trip and are available. Haynes, Marsh, Cortes, Frare, and Wotherspoon are all up from minor league camp for the day.

Available Position Players: C Wilkin Castillo, 1B Kellin Deglan, 2B Thairo Estrada, SS Abi Avelino, 3B Cito Culver, LF Ji-Man Choi, CF Rashad Crawford, RF Clint Frazier, and DH Jorge Saez will be the second string off the bench. C Francisco Diaz, SS Tyler Wade, and OF Billy McKinney will be on the bench as well. Estrada, Avelino, Culver, and Crawford are all up from minor league camp.

It is bright and sunny in Sarasota today. Pretty much perfect Spring Training baseball weather. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET. If you’re in the Orioles home market, you can watch the game on MASN. If not, you can watch live on MLB Network and MLB.tv. The MLB Network broadcast will be available in the Tri-State Area. You won’t be blacked out. Enjoy the game.

Adam Warren’s bullpen success will work against him in the rotation competition


The Grapefruit League season is less than one week old now, though the competition for the fourth and fifth starter’s spots is already well underway. Four of the five candidates (Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, Adam Warren) have already pitched in an exhibition game, and the other, Chad Green, will get the ball later today. There’s still five weeks left in camp to sort this competition out.

Warren, 29, has by far the most big league experience among the five rotation candidates. He’s thrown more MLB innings (354.2) than the other four guys combined (315), and he’s had more success too. A 3.63 ERA (3.96 FIP) and +4.5 bWAR in 354.2 innings is nothing to gloss over. The problem? The vast majority of Warren’s big league time has come as a reliever, which works against him in the spring rotation competition.

“I have been around these coaches long enough that they know what I am capable of doing, what I can do in the rotation and in the bullpen,” said Warren to George King recently. “I was talking to Larry (Rothschild) the other day and he said it could hurt you (that’s you’ve had success) out of the bullpen and you are flexible. Maybe I can go out there and pitch good enough to make them put me in the rotation. I do know (bullpen success) is going to hurt me, but that is a good thing as well.”

Warren has had only one extended stint as a starter in the big leagues, with the Yankees in 2015. He threw 96 innings in 17 starts and had a 3.66 ERA (3.92 FIP). The Yankees moved him back to the bullpen when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery even though Warren a) had the lowest ERA among the team’s starters at the time, and b) had a 3.04 ERA in his previous nine starts. Not the best decision there, but what’s done is done.

That all said, the best time to try Warren in the rotation may already be in the rear-view mirror. The Yankees are going young, and while Warren is not old by any means, he does turn 30 in August and will be a free agent after next season. Cessa, Green, Mitchell, and Severino are all 25 or younger with long-term team control. At this point in time it makes the most sense for the Yankees to give the kids the chance to start before a veteran player.

Warren is a very useful super utility reliever — he’s basically the perfect fourth bullpen option behind Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Tyler Clippard — because he’s versatile and his arm is resilient. He bounces back well after pitching back-to-back days, throwing multiple inning, stuff like that. That’s really valuable with bullpens becoming so much more important. Warren would love to start and I understand why. Ultimately, it’s best for the Yankees to go with the kids.

Fan Confidence Poll: February 27th, 2017

Spring Record: 2-1 (21 RS, 12 RA)
Spring Opponents This Week: Mon. @ BAL (MLB.tv, MLBN), Tues. vs. Tigers (split squad, no TV), Tues. @ Red Sox (split squad, no TV), Weds. vs. Braves (YES, MLB.tv), Thurs. vs. BAL (YES, MLB.tv, MLBN), Fri. @ TOR (MLB.tv, MLBN), Sat. vs. DET (no TV), Sun. vs. PIT (YES, MLB.tv)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
View Results

Open Thread: February 26th Camp Notes

Earlier today the Yankees beat the Blue Jays by the score of eh who really cares. Starlin Castro smacked a three-run homer and Billy McKinney came off the bench to hit a two-run shot. I am all about the #TooManyHomers we’ve seen early in camp. Gary Sanchez went 0-for-3 at the plate but did throw out two runners trying to steal. That’s what you get for running on February 26th.

Rotation candidate Luis Severino started and walked one in two otherwise uneventful innings. He threw a few changeups, some good (like this one) and some not so good. That’s the pitch to watch this spring. J.P. Feyereisen, the fourth piece in the Andrew Miller trade, looked pretty good in his two innings of work. He struck out three. Here is the box score, here are the video highlights, and here are the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Bryan Hoch provided the pitching assignments and hitting/fielding groups for everyone who didn’t play in today’s game. James Kaprielian, Justus Sheffield, and Chance Adams all threw bullpen sessions, which means they won’t pitch in an actual game for a few days. Alas.
  • Dellin Betances threw a simulated game today and will make his Grapefruit League debut Wednesday. The plan is to make two or three appearances with the Yankees before leaving for the World Baseball Classic. The Dominican Republic plays their first game March 9th. [Hoch]
  • The MLBPA folks were in camp for their annual song and dance this morning. Union chief Tony Clark declined to rehash the Betances arbitration nonsense. It seems everyone has moved on. [Erik Boland]

This is the open thread for the night. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES on 11pm ET, if you missed it earlier. MLB Network is showing several games on tape delay throughout the evening, plus the (hockey) Rangers are in action too. And there’s some college hoops on as well. Talk about whatever here, as long as it’s not religion or politics. Get that outta here.

Spring Training Game Thread: Severino’s First Start


I didn’t realize how much I missed baseball on a lazy Saturday until yesterday. Now I look forward to realizing how much I missed it on Sundays too. The day-in, day-out grind of baseball has returned even though these games aren’t all that meaningful. The prospects have brought us some fun highlights already though, and that’s cool. Spring Training is a great time of year for prospect watching.

This afternoon Luis Severino, one of five candidates for the fourth and fifth starter spots, will make his first Grapefruit League start. If you could get the Yankees to give you an honest answer, I’m sure they’d tell you they want Severino to grab one of those spots and run with it. That’d be ideal. At the same time, he’ll have to show improved command and more confidence in his changeup to make that happen. Here is the skeleton crew the Blue Jays sent on the road trip, and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 1B Chris Carter
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Luis Severino

Available Pitchers: RHP Johnny Barbato, RHP Brady Lail, LHP Jason Gurka, and RHP J.P. Feyereisen are all scheduled to pitch after Severino. RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP J.R. Graham, RHP Kyle Haynes, RHP Matt Marsh, and LHP Evan Rutckyj are all available as well. Haynes and Marsh are up from minor league camp for the day.

Available Position Players: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Donovan Solano, 2B Pete Kozma, SS Tyler Wade, 3B Ruben Tejada, LF Ronald Torreyes, CF Rashad Crawford, RF Billy McKinney, and DH Francisco Diaz will be the second string off the bench. C Jorge Saez, C Kellin Deglan, SS Jorge Mateo, SS Gleyber Torres, 3B Miguel Andujar, OF Dustin Fowler, and OF Clint Frazier are also available, if necessary. Crawford, who was the fourth piece in the Aroldis Chapman trade, is up from minor league camp for the day.

Pretty excellent weather in Tampa today, according to the internet. Sunny with temperatures in the upper-70s, but not much humidity. I wish I was there. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB.tv nationally. There’s also the FOX Sports Go app. Enjoy.

Assorted Baseball Thoughts


Hey, baseball! You’re unofficially back and that’s all sorts of awesome. It’s still a while before things really count, but it’s nice to have the game back in our lives on a daily basis, even if it’s just in the form of players doing workouts or taking batting practice or throwing bullpens. Dinner, so to speak, is finally on the stove and we’re beginning to smell it as its scent wafts up to us, enticing us to walk down into the kitchen (even if it won’t really open until April). So, in celebration of the season, here are some assorted thoughts about baseball goings on and whatnot.

How about that Aaron Judge homer? Or Gleyber Torres knocking two doubles and scoring from second (!) on a wild pitch? Or Clint Frazier going oppo on a triple? In the long run, these things mean absolutely nothing. I know it; you know it; the players themselves (probably) know it. But, regardless, it’s nice to see. Spring Training already gives us that nebulously fuzzy feeling of optimism and that only gets heightened when prospects and young players perform well.

While on the topic of young players, whom do you guys think is more likely to start the year in AAA: Judge or Greg Bird? There are cases for both players needing more work. Judge still swings and misses a lot and Bird will need to find his power stroke after missing an entire year; it’s plan to see why those two things could/should be worked out in Scranton rather than the Bronx. Both have nominally capable “replacements” in Aaron Hicks and Chris Carter, though Carter is much more a sure thing than Hicks at this point. I don’t think either of them ends up in AAA to start the year, though, and despite arguments for it, in a year in which the Yankees are transitioning, it’s okay to see some growing pains at the highest level.

The World Baseball Classic is back this year and it’s still something that I like but don’t love at this point. I get why it exists and I think the commissioner and his office genuinely do want to grow the game internationally–as they well should from a business point of view–but the whole thing still feels a bit stilted and awkward and I can’t place why. As a fan of soccer, I enjoy tournaments that the WBC tries to mimic–the World Cup, the European/Copa America tournaments, the Champions League, the FA Cup, etc.–but I just can’t fully buy into the WBC. I think I’d like it a lot more if it were styled after the Champions League with club teams rather than international teams. The only problem there is lack of competition. Only teams from the US, Japan, Cuba, and Korea would really be able to hack it in such a tournament, as teams from the other leagues in the world aren’t anywhere near good enough to hang with the best of the best from those leagues. I suppose, then, that there really isn’t much to do about changing it. Eventually–when no Yankees play in the damn thing–I’ll learn to love it.

Intentional walks as we know them may soon be a thing of the past. (Getty)
Intentional walks as we know them may soon be a thing of the past. (Getty)

Speaking of changes, MLB is doing away with the intentional walk process and I feel very…ambivalent about it. I don’t necessarily like it, but I don’t feel nearly strong enough about it to make a stink. At the end of the day, it’s a fairly meaningless change that won’t do much to take away from the game and won’t do much to improve it. It’s a fairly transparent move, in fact, so MLB can say ‘Look! See? We’re making changes!’ without having to do anything radical or spend any money. Regardless of my personal feelings, pace of play is a concern of MLB’s and they’re going to do what they can to speed up play, though I’m not sure how much it’ll help. Will casual fans become die hards or will new fans be born because games go from three hours to two hour and forty five minutes? Eh.

To grow the game, MLB needs to think outside just the field of play. I love baseball not just because it was introduced to me by my family, but because I played it growing up. For many kids in this country–especially kids of color and those in urban environments–the cost of playing baseball is prohibitive. Pumping money into youth leagues of all shapes and sizes–even subsidizing some of them–is one way for MLB to grow both with young people and people of color, demographics the sport has lacked recently.

Additionally, MLB needs to tap into why young people like certain sports. Over the last five years or so, I’ve taught every grade from 7-12 (though only as a day sub for 8th grade) and kids like players more than they like teams. I was the same way when I was younger–I had basketball and football jerseys from a dozen different teams and kids today are no different. They talk about players and stars more than they talk about teams. MLB hasn’t done the greatest job of promoting its new crop of stars and that’s going to hurt them as they compete against star-driven leagues like the NBA and the NFL. Allow player personalities to shine on the field and give them exposure off the field. It’s 2017; act like it, MLB.